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Monday, August 15, 2011

Comments Sought re Facilitating Classroom Discussion

Our friend and colleague Rick Bales, who teaches at NKU Chase Law, has asked me to pass along the following crowd-sourcing request.  Rick will be giving a talk at his university this week on "Facilitating Classroom Discussion," and would love to hear some ideas about techniques that you have found successful in generating good classroom discussions.  I'd like to hear them too!  Please chime in.

Posted by Paul Horwitz on August 15, 2011 at 12:07 PM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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Posted by: Rick Bales | Aug 18, 2011 9:24:51 AM

The University of Texas has a useful site about Group-Based Learning. I'll be using the scratch off cards to implement these techniques into a course this year, but not on a daily basis. The design encourages a significant amount of discussion.


Posted by: Jen Kreder | Aug 16, 2011 1:43:11 PM

In law school classes, I think much of the key to generating good classroom discussion is to pick an issue that has two genuine and difficult sides to it. Once you have done that -- or once the casebook author has done that -- the classroom discussion often takes care of itself. A few techniques that can facilitate things would include:

1) Calling on one student, and asking the student for the student's views on that issue. After the student articulates a position, asking the class who disagrees: Then calling on a student who disagrees.

2) If the same people keep raising their hands, ask for fresh voices -- saying something along the lines of "let's hear from more of the folks who have been quiet so far." This will push the quiet ones to speak, and reminds the more active class members that they need to make room for their classmates.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Aug 15, 2011 2:39:20 PM

I sometimes give students a moment to discuss certain questions in small groups, and then allow a few to share their thoughts with the entire class. The breakout discussions have three main benefits: (1) it allows all the students to talk (in their small groups); (2) it allows more thoughtful reflection on the questions than if they were asked to respond on the spot; and (3) students who are internal processors (and usually hesitate to talk in class) become more involved in the discussion.

Posted by: H. Murray | Aug 15, 2011 2:22:09 PM

I have students submit one page information sheets on themselves and often draw on their life experiences, or funny things about them (favorite movies, home town) to connect to questions I'll ask them so it would be something like "you spent time as an NYPD beat cop, how do you think this decision on the appealability on denials of refusal to dismiss a qualified immunity case would have affected your behavior."

Another technique I have used was to "assign" positions to students when an issue is controversial (say when personhood begins and whether stem cells deserve personhood protections) in order to make people feel that what they say is not attributed to them.

Finally, in discussion-oriented classes (such as my seminar on reproductive technology and genetics) I put the following disclaimer in the syllabus:

"Sensitivity and Attitude: This class involves very sensitive subjects. Of course, I expect all of you to show civility and respect to one another as we discuss these matters. Beyond that, though, one of the professional skills we model here at the law school is the ability to be analytical and make arguments that are in conflict with our own normative priors. Throughout this course I will at times press you to make arguments on behalf of conclusions you find repugnant or to attack doctrinal results that you view as sacred. To put the point a bit ethereally, I want you to view this class as an intellectual playground, a place where we can explore ideas without attribution of those ideas or where they may take us to the speaker, and certainly without personal judgment. "

Posted by: I. Glenn Cohen | Aug 15, 2011 1:23:01 PM

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